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Donna Lowry shares her journey with multiple myeloma

3:26 PM, Feb 22, 2014   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- The revelation that veteran NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw had  a cancer called multiple myeloma, may have sent other journalists to internet search engines looking for more information on the disease.

Not me.  I knew immediately how Brokaw felt. 

My multiple myeloma diagnosis came about eight years ago, during a routine physical exam when blood tests revealed I had protein in my blood.  

I soon learned I have a blood cancer.  Multiple myeloma is abnormal plasma cells inside of bone marrow. The cancerous plasma cells build-up, crowd-out the good, red blood cells and make a lot of one type of protein.

"This protein, which is an antibody, floats around in the blood and  ...can actually get stuck in the kidney," said my Oncologist, Dr. Laura Weakland, of Georgia Cancer Specialist, affiliated with Northside Hospital.

Kidney trouble is one of four areas under close watch in multiple Myeloma patients: in addition to signs of anemia, increases in calcium levels and holes developing in the bones 

"Your last set of x-rays look good," Dr. Weakland told me during a recent visit where she also looked at the lab results on my blood tests.  "If your counts declined, or if you had something on your skeletal survey that looked abnormal, but that's the critical thing that tells us the genetics behind your myeloma are favorable."

About 20,000 people are diagnosed with multiple myeloma every year in the U-S.  It's most prevalent in African Americans and men.

It's usually diagnosed in people 60-70 years old. I learned of it in my 40s.

"Your numbers and they were getting better. There's no doubt that looking at your protein, that total antibody number is coming down," Weakland told me. "You fit into a great category right now. Probably about 10% of patients that have a smoldering or asymptomatic disease like you do, don't progress much and you're not. And, I mean it's really super," Weakdland told me.

It has meant testing and watching. At one point, for a few months, Dr. Weakland put me on the intravenous drug Zomeda to strengthen my bones.

If the disease progresses, treatment can range from chemotherapy to stem cell and/or bone marrow transplants. 

"In some patients, we're pressured to treat immediately. We know the disease will progress and we have to get in its way," said Weakland.

Luckily, for now, I'm not one of them. 

"It's the hardest thing to explain. Hey, you have cancer, but no, I don't need to really do anything," said Weakland.

For now, Tom Brokaw's keeping specific details of his disease and treatment private.

I'm talking about it as a reminder that routine doctor's visits are recommended for a reason. 

It is a relief that I'm getting treated early.  Learning I had cancer was a devastating blow, but I'd rather know then be in the deal about it. 

Best of all, right now, I feel pretty good.

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